EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The El Paso City Council has voted to resurrect a failed 2017 project to issue municipal identification cards to residents who cannot get IDs from the federal government or the State of Texas.
The council on Tuesday approved a resolution directing City Manager Tommy Gonzalez to prepare a report in the next 120 days on the feasibility and potential benefits of the Municipal ID program.
The vote was a unanimous 8-0, as some council members openly supported the program and others, like City Rep. Brian Kennedy, noted, “How do you vote against a program when you don’t know what it is?”
Gonzalez and Mayor Oscar Leeser clarified that Tuesday’s vote was to green-light research and craft a proposal, not to approve and implement it already.
“(It’s to) direct the city manager to look and study and bring back. That’s the item on the agenda,” Leeser told a community member during the public comment period, “just to move forward to do a study.”
City staff will craft a proposal by late August, present it to the council and the community, and implement it by early 2024, if it passes a formal council vote. The study will identify any costs to the city.
Around a dozen community members spoke in favor of the project they say will allow mothers to volunteer at their children’s schools, help day laborers cash checks in banks and identify themselves to the satisfaction of law enforcement during traffic stops or police incidents.
“Identification is security and provides visibility and access to vital services,” said Alan Lizarraga, a community volunteer who says he knows college students who cannot open a cellphone account and of workers who turn to high-interest lenders when they need money because they cannot establish a bank account.
The Border Network for Human Rights first proposed the project a decade ago based on a large number of immigrants, many of them with U.S.-born children, who could not get a Texas driver’s license or state ID card and had difficulty entering some government buildings to procure services.
“For almost a decade we have been working on this essential issue. It has never been as important as today,” BNHR Executive Director Fernando Garcia said. “At least 70,000 (residents) don’t have access to official identification. Moms cannot pick up their kids from schools, workers cannot open bank accounts to be part of our booming economy. Transgender (residents), this is for everyone.”
BNHR campaigns director Irma Cruz said a municipal ID would not just benefit mixed-immigration status families, but also U.S. citizens who lost the right to a state driver’s license and have other obstacles to obtain federal identification.
“Sometimes because we don’t have (a state ID) we cannot get a birth certificate for our U.S.-born children,” Cruz said. She also told the story of a U.S. citizen whose driver’s license was suspended and had trouble getting his anxiety medication.
Project backer City Rep. Alexsandra Annello concurred that the municipal ID would not just benefit undocumented migrants.
“Some of these individuals might include senior citizens, unhoused individuals or individuals who are home insecure, people with disabilities, veterans, transgender individuals, and mixed status families,” Annello said. “The municipal ID program will look to serve these individuals.”
She said New York City, Chicago, Detroit and San Francisco, among others, have established similar programs.
A divided council voted down the Municipal ID proposal by a 5-4 margin in 2017. Then-Mayor Dee Margo cast the deciding vote, stating he did not want El Paso to be perceived or labeled as a “sanctuary city” for migrants.